Sunday, 25 September 2011

The PURPOSE of a "bain-marie!"

"Bain Marie" means water bath, also nicknamed double boiler. What is it? You can buy a double boiler pan. It is two pans stacked on top on one another. The bottom of the pan is filled with water and the top pan is filled with the food to be "cooked" by the heat and steam.

You can also improvise a bain marie. How? Simmer a pan of water and place a stainless steel bowl over the pan. Fill the bowl with the food that is about to be cooked. Which is better: to buy a tradition bain marie or improvise? Improvise. Yes, I have a traditional bain marie stainless steel clad construction pot that my grandmother gave me. But I almost always improvise. Why? Most people have a stainless steel bowl and pan in their kitchen. Don't waste more money on ANOTHER pan you have to put in your kitchen.

How to make your own person bain marie:
1) In a medium size sauce pan (about 3-4 quarts), fill half way with water.
2) Put it on medium-high heat. Let boil. Turn heat down to medium, thus the water is at a simmer.
3)Put your ingredients in a stainless steel (NOT plastic or glass! Stainless steel can take high heat VERY WELL!). Place the bowl over the pot of simmer water. Using your kitchen utensils, stir until cooked/thickened. (You may choose to wear an oven mit during this process, the steam is very hot!)
4) Remove bowl, be careful of the steam. Turn off the stove top.

Why a bain marie? It "cooks" food gently and softly. It is meant for food that, when exposed to direct heat, will scorch or burn.
A bain marie is keeps food nice and hot! Think: those fancy chauffer dishes for buffet dinners.

Most popular foods that need to be cooked in a bain marie:
-Melting chocolate
-Lemon Curd
-Custards, like creme brulee
-Hollindaise sauce, for eggs benedict
-Warm milk, like for baby's forumla
-Charcuterie items, like pate and terrines

Most people do not use a bain marie ENOUGH to buy a tradition bain marie. Just improvise and get cooking! Remember, the steam that is released is very hot and dangerous. I like wearing an oven mit when I am cooking food over a bain marie.

Happy Cooking!

Monday, 19 September 2011


Breaking bread. What is it? How do you do it? The term "breaking bread" popped up during a friend's birthday celebration. She explained you need to break bread with people you care, like, and love. Breaking bread means sharing food, time, and yourself with that other person you are currently with.

Thus, "breaking bread" inspired me to write my first non-food blog post. Yes, I do love blogging about food, recipes, new sweets, bakeware, and restaurants. But it is important to know the importance of food brings to the table.

Food IS celebration! Turkey for Thanksgiving; Prime rib and cookies for Christimas; Cake for birthdays; BBQ for the 4th of July. Whenever a special event or party is happening, food is always involved. It brings people together and puts a smile on your face.

My friend dared me to turn off the cell phone during dinner and pay full attention to the meal and event. Why? What is more important that the PRESENT time and who you are with. The other person you are with cut out time in their life to be with you! That is the biggest compliment because we all have busy and crazy lives. Enjoy the time. Ignore your texts, calls, tweets, fb updates, Google+, and blog lists.

Next time you are out, enjoying a great meal with great people, turn off your cellular devices and take in the good company and food. Life is meant to be enjoyed, experimented, and LIVED.

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
James Beard (1903-1985)

Happy Baking!

Monday, 12 September 2011

All about MERINGUE!

What is light AND fluffy and adds a touch of sweetness to many sweet baked goods: Meringue! What is it? It is whipped egg whites with some white sugar and/or a binding agent such as cornstarch or cream of tarter. You can find meringue in many dessert preperations, such as on top of lemon meringue pie, the base for pavlova, and being torched for baked alaska.

The science behind the light whipped egg whites: When you are whipping egg whites, you are "breaking" some of the hydrogen bonds in the protein. Thus, a "sitff" consistency. Since both sugar and egg whites are classified as hygroscopic, meringue becomes soggy if it is refigerated or in a high-humid enviroment.

There are three basic types of meringue:
1) French: The most common! Basically it is egg whites with white sugar. Note: ALWAYS use real white sugar, never a sugar substitute.
2) Italian: Boiled sugar syrup (water and white sugar cooked together until syrup-like) plus egg whites. This results in a soft meringue, often a base for buttercream. When making Italian meringue, slowly pour the warm syrup in whipping egg whites. This part may be "tricky" to master and you may get "splatters" of hot syrup on your careful!
3) Swiss: Egg whites and sugar whipped over a "bain-marie" (aka: water bath).
-So, how do you what type of meringue to use for what recipe? Follow the recipe. Each meringue type will result in slightly different visual results. French meringue is the most common for household cooks/bakers.

-Avoid using platic bowls/utensils. I like using a stainless steel bowl and whisk.
-Make sure your equipment is CLEAN! Any random particals can result in a "un-whipped" meringue. Basically, if the egg whites gets cross-contaminated, the whites will never fully "whip" and become a soggy mess.
-Add a touch (1 tsp) of cream of tarter to your egg whites will help stablizie the meringue. This helps in the summer time (warm heat!) or if the meringue is going to be chilled (like for lemon meringue pie).
-Room temp egg whites beat better than cold egg whites. You can do this two ways: 1) Bring the egg whites out to room temp 1 hr prior. Or 2) Whip the egg whites over a bain-marie until warm.
-Use fresh egg whites!
-Using a kitchen standing mixer is OK! Just make sure it is nice and clean!
-When you are whipping the egg whites, first whip the egg whites until frothy, then slowly add the white sugar until glossy. I like to add the sugar, 1/8 cup at a time.

Types of "peaks:"
When you whip the egg whites, you whip them to the specific "peak" size.
1)Soft: Barely holds a peak. Slighly glossy. The mixture still seems "wet."
2) Medium: Holds a "normal peak." The mixture will hold, but "not for long."
3) Stiff: Holds peak very well. The mixture seems stable and very glossy.

Meringue is delicious! Not only is it light calorie, making it a great option for healthy eaters, it is easy to master once you have knowledge about meringue technqiues. What to do with yolks? You can make chocolate mousse, ceasar dressing, lemon curd, thicken your hollandaise sauce, etc. The list goes on!

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

To subsitute or not to subsitute...

Baking, versus cooking, is more of a science and chemistry-related. You are working with different types of heat, acids, and leaveners. When working with a new recipe, it is easy to be confused with "what is what" and what can you subsitute for different ingredient.

When you have a flavoring ingredient, such as zest, chocolate, or an extract, subsituting it for another flavor ingredient will just change the flavor profile. This is perfect for changing up a basic shortbread cookie into an almond-white chocolate-apricot shortbread cookie! Turning a chocolate mousse recipe into a cinnamon-spiced chocolate mousse. Perhaps even a simple buttermilk biscuit recipe into a cheddar jalapeno biscuits!

The tricky part is when you are dealing with anything that will change the composition of the structure of the baked good. For example: baking powder, baking soda, yeasts, cocoa powder, and any other acids (vinegar, buttermilk, lemon juice, etc.).
The best advice? Don't subsitute one for another! But if you have to...
-2 parts cream of tarter plus 1 part baking soda = baking powder
-Triple the amount of baking powder to baking soda. (Example: 1 tsp baking soda = 3 tsp baking powder)
-1 "cake" of fresh yeast = 1 tablespoon dry yeast = 1 tablespoon instant dry yeast
-Stick with your acid that your working it!

Yes, you may realize that you do not have a particular ingredient to start your baking adventure, but having a stocked pantry helps, along with practice and knowledge. I love "The Food Lover's Companion" book because it is a dictionary of all foodie/cooking/baking terms. Another tip: write and date any notes you have with the baked good on the recipe itself!

Happy Baking!